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Net Neutrality: The Fight for Control and its Impact on Marketing




Net neutrality is an issue that touches every individual who uses the Internet. Whether you utilise it for marketing purposes or casual social networking, it’s worth familiarising yourself with the concept. Net neutrality impacts the way we work and play on the Web every day.

What is Net Neutrality?

The American Civil Liberties Union defines net neutrality as applying “common carrier” rules to the Internet in order to preserve its freedom and openness. In short, this means that the owner of a network cannot halt, slow, or tamper with the transfer of data.

That being said, not everyone is in agreement with this concept. More specifically, network providers want to maintain more control over the Internet.

In January 2014, the Federal Communications Commission lost the power to enforce network neutrality protections under regulatory framework. Since then, Internet service providers have obtained greater flexibility in terms of exploiting technologies to micromanage data sent within their networks. The FCC and the ACLU are currently at the forefront of the battle over net neutrality.

“The ACLU has been a principal participant in almost every Internet free speech case that has reached the U.S. Supreme Court in the past two decades, and our legislative staff has been aggressive on the issue in Congress and at the FCC,” the ACLU states on its website; “We continue to be vigilant on this issue.”

The 2011 Court Ruling

The tables turned after the FCC adopted Open Internet regulations in 2010, which were designed to ensure that broadband service providers preserved open access to the Internet. These regulations required broadband providers to be transparent with their customers on how they manage congestion on their networks. They also prohibited companies from blocking certain content on their networks, and fixed-broadband providers could not “unreasonably” discriminate against traffic, according to CNET.
In 2011, Verizon Communications challenged the FCC’s regulations in court, claiming it had no authority to implement these rules. The Federal Court of Appeals for the DC Circuit ruled 2-1 that the FCC’s rules were based on a flawed legal argument. This resulted in a big win for broadband providers, who were no longer forced to conform to the recent net neutrality regulations.

The FCC Strikes Back

Although the FCC has not been entirely stripped of its influence over the Internet, the 2011 ruling undoubtedly favoured the large corporations. Now, the FCC is once again working to regain its stronghold on the Internet and encourage support for net neutrality.

At the end of February 2015, the FCC approved new net neutrality rules that declared broadband Internet as a utility. Think of it like electricity or water – we have a right to it, according to the FCC, and its content should not be censored or prohibited.

Tom Wheeler, the Commission Chairman of the FCC, said that Internet access is “too important to let broadband providers be the ones making the rules,” according to the New York Times.

In March 2015, the FCC released a 400-page PDF that laid out its full concept for net neutrality, which has gained public support. The document has now highlighted that the FCC may have too much say in the matter according to Vox.  In any case, the commission has proven that it isn’t willing to give up on the matter without a fight.

The Effect on Overseas Markets

While it may not seem like net neutrality has any impact on overseas markets, limited Internet access could be detrimental to U.S. startups according to Voice of America news.

Andrew McDiarmid, Senior Policy Analyst for the Center of Democracy and Technology, told the news source that a lack of net neutrality may take away incentives for startups to create new services and applications. In turn, this means a lack of new content for people in other countries.

Jennifer Yeh, a Policy Counsellor at Free Press, told Voice of America that other countries around the world are watching the net neutrality debate. Depending on how it unfolds in the U.S., other Governments may change the way that their citizens utilise the Web.

Why Should You Care?

Net neutrality is something that anyone who uses the Internet should care about. Most people pay for an Internet connection from a service provider, which has control over the network as a whole. Without net neutrality, the provider can slow down the Internet speed, interrupt data exchange and incorporate other limitations as it sees fit. Additionally, these companies can charge what they want for their services, regardless of the restrictions they place on their customers.

Since the net neutrality battle has heated up, a number of prominent figures are stepping forward in support of the FCC. President Barack Obama is one of the many people who supports the FCC in its argument against broadband providers.

“I ran for office because I believed that nothing can stand in the way of millions of voices calling for change”, Obama wrote in a statement posted on the White House government website. “That’s the backbone of our democracy – and you’ve proven that this timeless principle is alive and well in our digital age.”

The Impact on Marketing

According to CMO, marketers need to keep a close eye on net neutrality for a number of reasons; if the FCC is successful and net neutrality becomes the norm, this means that marketers now have a level playing field. No longer will they need to worry about their content selectively reaching their audiences – FCC regulations would increase the likelihood that content is more accessible to the public, without broadband provider censoring.

However, net neutrality could end up being a double-edged sword for marketers who attempt to pay for the ability to block out the competition and stream content through high quality means. In any case, it seems like the fight over net neutrality is one that has yet to be won. For now, the FCC seems like it won’t be backing down any time soon. 

29th May 2015

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